The next-generation technologies that are changing the delivery of healthcare

NiklasEkarv

Head of M2M in Asia Pacific Vodafone

As mHealth evolves, the growing adoption of machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies is helping bring greater automation to remote monitoring, as wireless technology is used to transfer real-time data about patient vital signs and conditions directly to medical staff. M2M technology can also help in the tracking of drugs and medical equipment and can enable better management of healthcare workflows. For patients, this means continued monitoring and treatment delivered in a way that is more convenient, less disruptive and that ultimately enables them to enjoy a better quality of life.

Mobile technology is revolutionising healthcare.

For a global industry facing financial challenges: an ageing population; an increase in chronic diseases and growing demand and mobile health services offer a way to improve the quality of care while reducing costs.

Both developed and developing markets stand to gain from mHealth. Between now and 2017,Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries could reduce healthcare costs by as much as US$400 billion, while in Sub-Saharan Africa, one million more lives could be saved through mobile technology.

Physicians are now able to monitor information about patients with chronic illnesses remotely. They are able to provide cost-effective home-based care to patients undergoing long-term treatment and can help elderly patients maintain independence, by creating safe and secure living environments.

Greater access to smart mobile technologies, combined with more readily-available health information online, and interactive social media and mobile health services, are enabling patients and doctors to have a more engaged relationship.

As mHealth evolves, the growing adoption of machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies is helping bring greater automation to remote monitoring, as wireless technology is used to transfer real-time data about patient vital signs and conditions directly to medical staff. M2M technology can also help in the tracking of drugs and medical equipment and can enable better management of healthcare workflows. While America leads the way, Europe and the developed Asia-Pacific are also at the forefront in embracing this technology.

Spend less money, serve more patients
With mobile access becoming increasingly prevalent worldwide and almost all developed markets having more than 100 per cent penetration, mobile technology is well placed to support in the delivery of healthcare. This can be done in a number of ways.

With 53 per cent of the Japanese population expected to be over the age of 65 by 2030, as well as43 per cent of Western Europe and 33 per cent of North America, mHealth is helping to ease the burden of an ageing population on the global healthcare industry. Mobile devices such as GPS locators, for instance, are being used to monitor the status of patients. The devices send real-time alerts in the event of an accident or sudden fall, meaning those who are less mobile or suffer from degenerative diseases such as dementia, are able to stay at home and maintain a level of personal freedom, while receiving continuous care and protection.

As diseases once considered incurable, but now deemed treatable, place greater demand on the healthcare industry, mobile technology is reducing the impact on resources. Mobile devices enable clinicians to receive readings remotely and maintain up-to-date records on patients, resulting in less hospital visits despite more information ultimately being gathered on the patient. At any one time caregivers are also able to see whether patients are taking their medication correctly and can keep an eye on the condition of medical equipment to avoid breakdowns.

While clinical trials support investment in new treatments and drugs, they can be time-consuming and costly.  Vital sign monitors enable administrators to capture real-time patient data during clinical trials, speeding up regulatory evaluations, removing the need for manual, paper-based methods and facilitating faster decision-making.

It might be easy to assume that growing automation means that patients are taking an increasingly passive role in their own treatment programmes. However, often it is the combination of data collected from devices and data manually entered by patients that is most responsible for improving patient outcomes. It is the increasing collaboration between doctors and patients, facilitated by mobile communications, that is changing the face of healthcare delivery.

mHealth in action
In South Africa global healthcare group Sanofi has launched a mobile-based Patient Support Program (PSP).  Once a patient is diagnosed with diabetes, they can choose to receive SMS alerts to support them through their first six months of treatment.

AstraZeneca is using mHealth services to improve global health outcomes for patients with cardiovascular conditions. Mobile and Internet-based services support a patient throughout their treatment, improving medication adherence and giving the patient the confidence to manage their condition more effectively. Access to personalised educational materials, as well as coaching and treatment enable patients to manage their medication and lifestyle changes, while tracking their treatment progress.

Another initiative designed to help patients track their medication is provided by TRxCARE. TrxCARE is a global provider of individualised treatment delivery services, and the company is applying M2M technology to improve the quality and frequency of contact between doctors, nurses, patients and their families to ensure that medication is properly administered.  It enables patients and healthcare professionals to collaborate and to work as a team to continuously optimise treatment delivery, track outcomes, schedule clinic appointments and communicate utilising secure instant messaging.

eHealth specialist 24Care has developed an automatic monitoring system that uses M2M technology to ensure that defribrillators, used to resuscitate people after heart attacks, are kept in optimum condition. The system, which is called DefiCommunicator, sends alerts to local authorities and health providers when Automated External Defibrillators (AED) require maintenance. Having a fully operational AED can mean the difference between life and death and as such, these devices require regular checks and support. Should a problem arise, the AED sends a text message to a number chosen by the owner – for instance a first responder or service manager – who will then ensure the device is fixed.

Seizing the mHealth opportunity
These examples demonstrate how mobile technology is already reducing pressure on hospital outpatient and inpatient services by increasing the speed at which healthcare providers can anticipate problems arising with medication regimes, respond to signs of deterioration in patient conditions and enable detection of faulty medical devices. For patients, this means continued monitoring and treatment delivered in a way that is more convenient, less disruptive and that ultimately enables them to enjoy a better quality of life.

At a time when healthcare organisations around the world are facing increasingly burdensome regulations and ever-present funding challenges, mHealth is providing a valuable way for the healthcare industry to sidestep budget limitations and meet patient needs and expectations.

Author Bio:
Niklas joined Vodafone in 2009 as a regional manager overseeing company’s M2M business in Northern Europe and North America. He was appointed head of Vodafone’s M2M Asia Pacific business in November 2010. Based in Japan, he is fully responsible for driving Vodafone’s M2M growth and business strategy across the region.

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